8 Ways to Green Up Your Life

 

From this summer’s “Live Earth” events to last year’s An Inconvenient Truth, the call to action grows louder: it’s time to take responsibility for saving the planet. The good news is that we can all answer that call. While not everyone can commit to a car-free commute or a biodynamic diet, most of us can make small changes that have a larger impact when consistently practiced. If you are ready to “green” your life, read on.

Drive Less

During the past quarter century, car ownership and miles driven in the United States have increased at a rate faster than, and out of step with, this country’s population growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Brian Bochner, a senior research engineer for the Texas Transportation Institute, points to several problems created by the overuse of cars.

“Due to our dependence on the automobile and our drive-alone type driving, we are [now] using up nonrenewable resources faster, adding unnecessarily to emissions and increased pollution, and driving more travel miles—creating a need for more highways and more roads,” says Bochner.

Here’s a good place to start.

Give public transportation a try. Pick up a bus or train schedule with the goal of finding one trip to take this week on public transit. Next week, make it two, and so on. You just may like saving money on gas and letting someone else drive.

Walk or bike when it makes sense. Don’t assume that a short trip in the car is harmless. Extra gas is used during start-up, and emissions controls take a few minutes to kick in. Walk or bike short distances whenever possible to increase personal fitness while decreasing pollution.

Find car buddies. Driving alone is an inefficient way to travel when others are going the same way. Seek out people at work, school, church or any place you drive on a regular basis. Sharing the driving means shared expenses.

Make Home Energy Efficient

Electricity-related emissions from U.S. homes have grown by 2.5 percent annually since 1990, according to the Energy Information Administration. Emissions from direct combustion of fuels like natural gas have grown by 0.5 percent annually during the same period. Contributing factors include warmer temperatures and more extreme weather in recent years, poor building design, larger homes, and more appliances and electronics per household than ever before.

Moving to reduce residential energy use and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions requires a whole-house approach to saving energy.

Schedule a home energy audit. Many homeowners don’t recognize problems with their home’s thermal performance, which can result in the overuse of heating and cooling appliances. An energy audit can identify ways to conserve energy, save money and improve comfort. Gas and electric companies can provide audit information. Or visit www.HomeEnergyTuneUp.com on the web to find energy inspectors by zip code.

Reduce power drain. A typical home spends 20 percent of its energy costs on powering home appliances and electronics. So select products that display the government-backed Energy Star label. For product categories not rated by Energy Star, comparing manufacturer-provided energy charts shows which brands and models use fewer kilowatt-hours (kWh) a year.

Build small and green. When building a new home it’s smart to resist the trendy super-sized McMansion in favor of something smaller. Then build to Energy Star or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards to reduce the dwelling’s carbon dioxide emissions. Learn more about green building principles and qualified builders by state at www.EnergyStar.gov or www.USGBC.org.

Practice Water Conservation

Water is a precious shared resource that is perpetually wasted and threatened by pollution and development. Everyone bears responsibility for protecting and conserving water inside and outside the home, and every drop counts.

Regulate the flush. Toilets comprise 26.7 percent of residential water use. With flush toilets we can save the most water with a dual flush model, like the Aquia by Toto, which gives users a choice of a 0.9-gallon flush for liquids or a 1.6-gallon flush for solids. On average, a dual flush toilet will use 25 percent less water than a standard low flush toilet, according to H2OUSE.org. Reduce turf space. Even in a wet climate, lawn care often consumes the most water in the household. Try to reduce large areas of turf in a landscape and favor plants adapted to the region’s annual rainfall. Hold the chemicals. To protect surface and groundwater from pollution, avoid using chemicals on the yard and never pour anything into a storm drain.

Eat Sustainably

The United Nations now calls sustainable agriculture an “urgent necessity” in response to the present industrial, chemical-intensive agriculture that is environmentally degrading and economically unjust. Sustainable agriculture works to correct these problems by stressing land stewardship and economic and social equity for small producers. It also promotes the humane treatment of animals raised for food. Consumers can help by supporting community growers who raise food in an ecologically sound and humane way.

Buy organic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines organic food as food produced by farmers who “emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.” The organic food industry has become a positive force in changing harmful agricultural practices. Purchasing organics is an investment in the future of our food.

Support local growers. Locally grown food is not only fresher and more flavorful, it also uses less energy to reach the table. www.LocalHarvest.org maintains a searchable database of thousands of farms, as well as some markets, restaurants and co-ops that sell and serve locally grown foods.

Eat less meat. Raising animals in industrial feed lots is neither humane nor sustainable. Diane Hatz, director of Sustainable Table, founded the organization to build community through food. Her website, www.EatWellGuide.org, directs consumers to those who produce healthy meat. “When eating meat,” Hatz advises, “only consume 4 to 6 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards, and eat healthier meat that is raised as locally as possible on sustainable farms.”

Resist Excess

The U.S. Census reports that the average American home now has more TVs than inhabitants. As the national hunger for bigger and better homes, cars and other material possessions grows, so does the demand on resources required to produce, maintain and operate them. New American Dream is an organization devoted to changing consumer patterns. Staff member Dave Tilford says that “In most consumer categories, America ranks highest in per capita consumption by a considerable margin even among industrial nations. In fact, if everyone on Earth consumed as the average American does, we would need more than five planets to supply the resources and absorb the waste.”

Scale back. With exponentially more people added to the planet every day, we need to make more realistic appraisals of what is necessary in order to preserve our shared resources.

Reuse. We can avoid creating inflated demand for new things by using what is already here. Reuse-outlets for clothing, housewares, furniture and building materials are growing in popularity, and online classifieds like CraigsList.org offer consumers a chance to sell or buy reused items of all kinds.

Purchase with a Conscience

When it comes to buying new products, consider how and where they’re produced or grown, what resources they require for use and maintenance, and what will happen to them after they’ve served their purpose. No product is 100 percent earth-friendly, but many are now being manufactured to minimize their environmental impact. Plus it’s becoming easier for consumers to find them. Read labels. Look for labels that certify that a product has met minimum environmental standards. For example, the Green Seal label on paint certifies that it has limited volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and is free of several harmful chemicals and heavy metals. Certifying agencies should be nonaffiliated with the products they review, so a bit of research on an unfamiliar label will determine its third-party status and authenticity. Shop from and use green businesses. Businesses whose products and services are selected with the earth in mind are growing! Find green businesses through online directories like Co-op America’s Green Pages at www.CoopAmerica.org/pubs/greenpages.

Vote Smart

Politicians with legislative powers write the laws that make up, among other things, our environmental policies—policies that either protect resources and environmental quality or permit their exploitation and harm. Political candidates must address many issues of critical importance to the country during a campaign, not the least of which is the health of our environment. If candidates aren’t talking about important subjects, voters can still find out where elected officials stand on a variety of issues. Get information from impartial sources. Project Vote Smart (at www.VoteSmart.org) covers candidates and elected officials in five categories: personal background, issue positions, voting records, campaign finances and interest group ratings. Waste Not The average person creates 4.4 pounds of garbage a day, a figure that’s nearly double what it was in 1970. The jump is due in part to increased packaging, a rise in single-use consumer products and the short lifecycle of many electronics quickly replaced by new technology. Although more Americans are embracing the concept of recycling, the first actions to take are to reduce and reuse whenever possible. Less is better. Containers and packaging make up the largest share of municipal solid waste—about 77 million tons according to the EPA’s latest figures. Look for products that use the least amount of packaging, such as those in concentrated form and bulk sizes free of individual wrappings inside the package. Reuse, reuse, reuse. Reuse includes buying durable products that will last through many uses and over many years. We can repair and refurbish older items to maintain their usefulness, donate or sell things instead of tossing them, and buy second-hand goods whenever possible. Some items can be altered and used for a new purpose, a practice called “repurposing”. Support companies with “take back” programs. The EPA maintains that electronic waste is growing two to three times faster than any other waste stream. You can help by choosing to buy electronics from manufacturers that will take back their products at the end of their useful life and ensure that they are recycled.

To learn of computer take-back programs, visit www.ComputerTakeBack.com. Crissy Trask is the author of It’s Easy Being Green: A Handbook for Earth-Friendly Living and a freelance writer and green lifestyle consultant living in Washington State. She can be reached at CT@GreenMatters.com.

Source: By Crissy Trask

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